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Automatic layout of schematic transit maps

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Schematic maps are a fantastic tool for everyday use on public transport. They are intuitive, fast to read, elegantly designed and most importantly, we have them for most cities. Take the famous London Tube map for example. How do I go from Wimbledon to the Olympic Park in Stratford? Easy: District+Central, or District+Piccadilly+Central. The reason it is … Continue reading "Automatic layout of schematic transit maps"
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5 hours ago
Toronto, ON
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Why diversity in wildlife law enforcement is needed: A rebuttal

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Re: Why hunters and anglers work to protect our natural capital, Feb 4th 2018

In reference to the Province’s Jan 29th article pertaining to the BC Conservation Officer Service, the article states, “it was inferred that the B.C. Conservation Officer Service is over-represented by hunters and that conservation officers choose their career for reasons inconsistent with protecting and conserving B.C.’s natural capital.” It’s also stated that policy issues were not addressed and that the motivations and interests of Conservation Officers, hunters, and anglers were attacked.

In order to ensure the record is correct, I wish to clarify the following:

  1. The initial article was a result of the government not complying with their legislated responsibilities pursuant to BC information laws and should not be construed as anti-hunting. Accountability in the government’s duty to assist FOI applicants is essential to an open and transparent democracy. Citizens have information rights, and those rights need to be respected.
  2. The article focused on the government’s data pertaining to hunting records of sworn law enforcement officers with the BCCOS. Anglers were never mentioned and no inference was ever made.
  3. This is about the ability of armed, badged, and sworn law enforcement officers to fairly represent the general public on matters pertaining to their wildlife mandate.

I agree that many resident hunters care about our environment and about our wildlife – so do many others in this province. I also agree that the BC Wildlife Federation conducts important conservation and education work in the Province of BC – as do many other organizations.

Where we disagree is on the point of 70 per cent of armed wildlife officers being hunters. I stand by my assertion that the over representation of hunters in the BCCOS is a conflict of interest for the agency. In BC the BCCOS directly recruits licenced hunters. Instead of primarily recruiting hunters for wildlife policing, we need to first directly recruit those that want to be good police officers and then provide them training specific to wildlife enforcement work – this is about making sure we have good cops and an honest wildlife policing service that places integrity and the public trust in the highest regards.

In justifying the high number of officers who are hunters, the author states, “The reality is hunters, and anglers are over-represented across all fields related to natural resource conservation… The motivation is simple: because hunters and anglers care about the sustainability of our natural resources.”

I argue that favoring hunters in recruitment processes strictly because they have knowledge of killing wildlife, to a point where 70 per cent of uniformed staff are hunters, creates a situation where the policing service in question lacks balance and internal workplace diversity and is unable to uphold the public trust or maintain a perception of impartiality.

It’s also asserted that groups such as Wild Safe B.C. were designed in concert with the B.C. Conservation Officer Service to prevent habituation of wildlife and reduce human-wildlife conflict. However, BC’s Auditor General has noted concerns with the BCCOS program. In her long-awaited report she stated:

  • “…We expected the COS to be evaluating the tools and resources it has available (warnings, tickets and formal charges) to ensure they are effective and sufficient, but no such evaluations have taken place.” (page 7 of the BC AG Report)
  • “The COS relies on WildSafe BC to deliver an education program to prevent a conflict with bears but the program is limited and the COS has not evaluated it for its effectiveness.” (page 8 of the AG Report)

Quite simply, the current system is not working. To be frank, it’s not just hunters that care about conservation and the environment, many British Columbians do, and I am one of them.

As long as diversity is ignored within wildlife law enforcement and government bureaucracy, there will exist a conflict of interest that will continue to exclude non-consumptive stakeholders. I am advocating for a balanced, fair, transparent, and accountable wildlife policing service – nothing more.

Bryce Casavant is a former BC Conservation Officer who made international headlines in 2015 when he refused to kill two bear cubs. He is currently a doctoral candidate at Royal Roads University, studying public trust and wildlife co-existence in BC.


The post Why diversity in wildlife law enforcement is needed: A rebuttal appeared first on Bryce Casavant.

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12 hours ago
Toronto, ON
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Vladimir Guerrero’s Best Games Were In Montreal — And No One Saw Them

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When we think of soon-to-be Hall of Fame inductee Vladimir Guerrero’s outstanding career, we might recall his 2004 American League MVP season with the Anaheim Angels, when he carried his new squad to the postseason with a scorching .363/.424/.726 triple-slash line in September. Or perhaps we’d picture another Angels-era moment, a play that seems to be everyone’s favorite Guerrero highlight: that time he somehow blooped a hit on a pitch that bounced in front of home plate.

But many of Guerrero’s top moments came in relative obscurity, as a member of the (late, lamented) Montreal Expos. Although fans of the big-market Atlanta Braves and New York Mets got to see him play on television with some frequency, Guerrero was mostly touted as baseball’s best-kept secret during his peak, routinely playing before microscopic audiences at Stade Olympique. He was baseball’s equivalent of an indie band on the cusp of national discovery — the hipster fan’s alternative to mainstream favorites like Ken Griffey Jr. or Barry Bonds. And while some assorted clips do exist of Guerrero’s feats with his first MLB team, it was also the era right before MLB.TV permanently killed the notion of an underground star. Guerrero might have been the last truly great player to bear that title.

Certainly, no recent Hall of Famer was seen by fewer people in person during his best seasons than Guerrero. From 1998 to 2002, Guerrero produced 29.5 wins above replacement (WAR)4 for the Expos, marking the top five-year stretch of his career. Over that span, an average of just 10,038 fans came to see each of Guerrero’s home games, according to attendance data from Baseball-Reference.com. That’s the fewest of any HOF member whose career took place during the expansion era (since 1961), including likely 2018 inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman:

The most- and least-watched Hall of Famers in their primes

Top and bottom 10 Hall of Famers by team attendance per game in their five best consecutive seasons by wins above replacement, 1961-present

Top 10 Years Pos Team(s) WAR AVG. Att/Game
Roberto Alomar 1997-2001 2B BAL/CLE 26.9 43,113
Jim Thome 1995-99 3B/1B CLE 26.3 41,716
Greg Maddux 1994-98 P ATL 39.7 40,169
Mike Piazza 1993-97 C LAD 31.9 39,857
Tom Glavine 1995-99 P ATL 26.6 39,232
John Smoltz 1995-99 P ATL 29.6 39,226
Chipper Jones 1998-2002 3B/LF ATL 31.8 37,792
Randy Johnson 1998-2002 P SEA/ARI/ HOU 43.1 35,791
Ivan Rodriguez 1996-2000 C TEX 29.9 35,120
Ozzie Smith 1985-89 SS STL 30.7 34,781
Bottom 10 Years Pos Team(s) WAR ATT/Game
Vladimir Guerrero 1998-2002 RF MON 29.5 10,038
Phil Niekro 1974-78 P ATL 34.9 10,229
Bert Blyleven 1972-76 P MIN/TEX 36.8 10,339
Rod Carew 1973-77 2B/1B MIN 36.9 10,346
Gaylord Perry 1972-76 P CLE/TEX 35.8 11,210
Reggie Jackson 1971-75 RF/CF OAK 31.1 11,883
Catfish Hunter 1971-75 P OAK/NYY 24.6 12,501
Nolan Ryan 1973-77 P CAL 28.8 13,455
Rollie Fingers 1974-78 P OAK/SDP 13.0 14,125
Jim Palmer 1975-79 P BAL 27.4 14,463

Includes hitters and pitchers whose entire careers came in the post-expansion era (since 1961).

Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs

That number stands out even more when you consider that Guerrero’s peak straddled the 1990s and 2000s, a consistent period of record-high attendance in the major leagues. All of the other least-watched Hall members on the list above came from the 1970s, when MLB-wide attendance per game had barely budged since the ’50s. By the time Guerrero came along, though, attendance was cresting after two decades of incredible growth. There’s a reason nine of the 10 most-watched HOFers came from the ’90s.

But playing in a crumbling, derelict ballpark north of the Canadian border, for a franchise whose roster was gutted after the 1994 strike derailed a season many still believe was destined for a championship, Guerrero was the ultimate under-the-radar superstar. For example, he finished only 13th in MVP voting in 1998 despite producing the second-best season of his career by WAR (and tying fellow likely Chipper Jones for fifth in WAR among NL position players). During his final four seasons in Montreal, Guerrero had three seasons with a quadruple-digit on-base plus slugging (OPS), yet he finished in the top five of MVP voting only once.

Of course, in some ways the privacy of Montreal also added to Guerrero’s mystique. In combination with his thrilling style of play — he loved to swing at (and hit) anything in the same area code as the plate, and he rifled down base runners with a cannon of an arm in right field — there was a certain romance to the image of the mega-talented Guerrero toiling away thanklessly for a soon-to-be-relocated shell of a franchise. He helped5 drag the Expos to surprising respectability in seasons like 2002, when they beat the odds to finish second in the NL East with 83 wins despite owning the league’s lowest payroll. And when Guerrero was finally given the spotlight of a bigger market in 2004, he made the most of it in MVP fashion.

It made for a great narrative arc to the career of an all-time great player. However, it’s still a shame more people didn’t get to see Guerrero play during his peak seasons. Nowadays, we take it for granted that we can watch small-market stars whenever we want via the power of streaming. But Guerrero serves as a reminder of a time not so long ago, when brilliant individual performances could still be limited to an extremely small audience of lucky admirers.

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13 hours ago
Toronto, ON
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Catbus» Blog Archive » Far From Boring:Meet the Most Interesting Tunnel Boring Machines


Right now in Los Angeles, Elon Musk is playing in the dirt with his shiny new toy, a second-hand tunnel-boring machine (“TBM”) named “Godot”. He hopes to revolutionize car travel by building highways underground, in “going 3d”.

Musk’s antics have already drawn criticism from transit-planning experts. Jarrett Walker points out that Musk’s ideas are inherently anti-urban and anti-transit. Alon Levy shows that the technological claims Musk makes about tunnel technology are bogus: Musk seems to believe that there are a lot of low-hanging fruits to improve tunneling technology, whereas in reality, the technology is already very advanced.

People tend to think it’s the tunnels that are the most expensive part of underground systems like metros, but thanks to the already existing TBM technology, they often represent only a small portion of the overall cost. Sometimes as little as 10%.

The most expensive parts of subways are the stations. In my view, modern boring technology becomes interesting when we can use it not just for the tunnels in-between the stations, but to build the complete system, including the stations, cheaper.

Many tunnel building innovations have been developed by various companies to deal with real-world constraints. They give us TBMs like these:

The Giant TBM

Musk says he can build tunnels cheaper if he just makes them smaller. But in reality, it’s not small TBMs that are the future, but big ones. The cost of a TBM doesn’t get much higher as you increase its diameter. Tt is therefore cheaper to build one very large tunnel, rather than two smaller ones. So giant, linear tunnel building factories have been constructed, with some reaching up to 17.6m in diameter.

The two phases of tunneling: pushing forward & installing the tunnel lining (check out the full video here)

A large diameter tunnel becomes really interesting for the construction of a metro, if it is large enough to fit not only the tracks, but the station platforms inside it. This saves costs because it’s unnecessary to excavate large caverns, possibly dug from above requiring the purchase of a large amount of land.

A large diameter tunnel was used for Barcelona’s line 9/10 project, where the tunnel is so big that two tracks and two platforms can be stacked above each-other, inside a single tunnel.

These arge tunnel can also house other necessary infrastructure: siding tracks to park trains at night, ramps so trains can cross over from one level to the other, evacuation paths, power substations — all items requiring space and cost.

Other projects used very large TBMs to build tunnels hosting six lanes of highways on two levels, plus emergency evacuation and ventilation, all inside a single tube (Madrid, Seattle). There are also water or sewer tunnels.

State Route 99 tunnel (source)

One interesting project in Kuala Lumpur, called “SMART Tunnel”, combines a four lane highway tunnel with a storm drain. During major storms, the road is closed and the whole tunnel is used to carry stormwater.

Other projects combine rail and road in one tunnel. In Wuhan, China, a twin-tube tunnel under the Yangze River, currently under construction, combines a highway on the upper deck with a metro line on the lower one.

Wuhan Metro line 7 tunnel (source)

The Vertical TBM

Let’s say you’ve built your metro line using a giant TBM, and installed platforms inside the tunnels — you’ll still need to access those stations from the surface. Traditionally, you would dig some access shafts. This may be slow, labor-intensive, and complicated if there’s ground-water. But in the interesting new world of tunnel technology, there’s a TBM for that: the “vertical shaft sinking machine”.

Vertical Shaft Sinking Machine (source)

It’s a machine that consists of an excavator at the bottom of the tunnel that removes the earth, and machines at the top that build the tunnel lining rings that are being pushed down from above.

digging and adding rings (source)

The trick here is that rings are installed at the top of the shaft and then the whole shaft is pushed down. It leaves a lot of the complex technology at the surface. It also means you don’t end up with a big machine at the bottom, without an escape: most TBMs can’t go backwards because they’re bigger than the tunnel they’re building, so they need an opening on the other end to escape the underground (or be taken apart at the end).

At the bottom, the excavator can work under water, so the shaft can have the same ground-water level as the surrounding environment, until the desired depth is reached and the a concrete seal is poured at the bottom.

pouring the bottom seal (source)

With this machine it would be relatively simple to build access shafts for elevators, to access our hypothetical metro line.

The Diagonal TBM

We could now build our subway line deep underground inside giant tunnels, and vertical shafts down to provide elevator accesses. The thing is, if you want a lot of people to access your station, you need escalators, which move many more people per hour. This means we want tunnels to be neither vertical or horizontal, but built at the 30 degree angle of escalators.

In 1997, Saint-Petersburg opened an extension of its line 5, very deep underground. But one 102m deep station, Admiralteyskaya, wasn’t opened until more than a decade later, because they couldn’t figure out how to build a connection to the surface. For all this time, trains just ran through this ghost station but didn’t stop there, since there was no connection to the surface.

The problem was that there are a lot of museums and heritage buildings nearby and the ground is composed of a soft soil. The usual solution to freeze the ground and treat it like rock was deemed too risky, as the ground expansion from the freezing could damage the buildings (oh also, they ran out of money, and they had trouble finding a plot of land to use for the station).

In the end, they came up with a tunnel boring machine that digs at an angle. The machine takes away soil and immediately replaces it with a tunnel, minimizing movement of the ground. This allows digging without affecting the environment.

In a way, building tunnels barely more than 100m with a TBM seems crazy. Setting up a tunnel “factory” only makes sense when you have a lot of tunnel to build. To make this economical, the TBM was made as re-usable as possible. Once the TBM reaches the bottom, most of it is disassembled and moved to the next site. The only thing that stays underground is the tunnel shield, the big protective metal sheath at the front of the TBM under which the tunnel lining is assembled – because it’s wider than the tunnel.

View down the angled shaft (source)

In the end, three angled tunnels were built, at lengths between 105m and 160m allowing three new stations to open. The Admiralteyskaya station opened in 2011, about 14 years after the line itself.

The Rectangular TBM

One issue with traditional TBMs is that they build tunnels with a circular cross section. But the internal cross-section of tunnels usually needs to be rectangular; generally we want a flat bottom, walls going straight up, with some relatively constant ceiling height.

If we use a circular TBM to build a tunnel, we have a bunch of wasted space on the sides. This can be especially an issue when space is at a premium, or if we want to build tunnels as close as possible to the surface.

This is especially true for underpasses, which have to be as close to the surface as possible and which also have a relatively small height (as little as 2.2m) but require a good amount of width (4m and more). Traditionally, these would be constructed using cut-and-cover: the road would be dug up, the tunnel placed in, and the road rebuilt on top. This can be a major disruption to the surface roads above.

To deal with all of these issues, some tunnelling technology companies have started to offer a new kind of tunnel boring machine: the rectangular TBM.

The idea, proposed by a German company but already built and used by a Chinese one, is to have a small rectangular digger. They can be used to build short, low-depth tunnels, in space-constrained environments, while minimizing surface impacts (which may also reduce costs).

A rectangular TBM digging an underpass (source)

Rather than including a facility for assembling the tunnel lining (out of multiple segments) inside the TBM, complete rings are inserted at the insertion shaft, and the whole tunnel is jacked forward one segment at a time.

This technology was used to build a metro access at the Havelock Metro Station in Singapore. The company hopes that this technology could be used one day to build whole stations.

A station built using this rectangular TBM concept could be very interesting: unlike the ‘giant’ TBMs mentioned before, this technology could allow building stations close to the surface, in much more spatially constrained environments, and allowing a passenger platforms to be side-by-side rather than stacked.


When building transportation systems, constraints are usually about physics, geometry and cost, not the technology (see my criticism of the “Gadgetbahn”).

I think that we have to be careful of primarily technology-based “solutions” to transportation problems. Musk is trying to sell a quick-fix technology that in real life won’t be able to escape geometry and physics. His approach makes little sense, his understanding of cities is poor … but also, his technology is boring.

On the other hand, technology can provide interesting tools to advance projects anchored in the real world, and push geometric, physical, time and cost constraints to its limits.

For more reading on tunnel technology, I recommend the website TunnelTalk, and the Tunneling Products Page of Herrenknecht, which I’ve both heavily linked in this article.

Published on Thursday, January 25th, 2018 at 09:52
Filed under technology, tunnels.
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14 hours ago
Toronto, ON
23 days ago
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Ending Bitcoin support


At Stripe, we’ve long been excited about the possibilities of cryptocurrencies and the experimentation and innovation that’s come with them. In 2014, we became the first major payments company to support Bitcoin payments.

Our hope was that Bitcoin could become a universal, decentralized substrate for online transactions and help our customers enable buyers in places that had less credit card penetration or use cases where credit card fees were prohibitive.

Over the past year or two, as block size limits have been reached, Bitcoin has evolved to become better-suited to being an asset than being a means of exchange. Given the overall success that the Bitcoin community has achieved, it’s hard to quibble with the decisions that have been made along the way. (And we’re certainly happy to see any novel, ambitious project do so well.)

This has led to Bitcoin becoming less useful for payments, however. Transaction confirmation times have risen substantially; this, in turn, has led to an increase in the failure rate of transactions denominated in fiat currencies. (By the time the transaction is confirmed, fluctuations in Bitcoin price mean that it’s for the “wrong” amount.) Furthermore, fees have risen a great deal. For a regular Bitcoin transaction, a fee of tens of U.S. dollars is common, making Bitcoin transactions about as expensive as bank wires.

Because of this, we’ve seen the desire from our customers to accept Bitcoin decrease. And of the businesses that are accepting Bitcoin on Stripe, we’ve seen their revenues from Bitcoin decline substantially. Empirically, there are fewer and fewer use cases for which accepting or paying with Bitcoin makes sense.

Therefore, starting today, we are winding down support for Bitcoin payments. Over the next three months we will work with affected Stripe users to ensure a smooth transition before we stop processing Bitcoin transactions on April 23, 2018.

Despite this, we remain very optimistic about cryptocurrencies overall. There are a lot of efforts that we view as promising and that we can certainly imagine enabling support for in the future. We’re interested in what’s happening with Lightning and other proposals to enable faster payments. OmiseGO is an ambitious and clever proposal; more broadly, Ethereum continues to spawn many high-potential projects. We may add support for Stellar (to which we provided seed funding) if substantive use continues to grow. It’s possible that Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, or another Bitcoin variant, will find a way to achieve significant popularity while keeping settlement times and transaction fees very low. Bitcoin itself may become viable for payments again in the future. And, of course, there’ll be more ideas and technologies in the years ahead.

So, we will continue to pay close attention to the ecosystem and to look for opportunities to help our customers by adding support for cryptocurrencies and new distributed protocols in the future.

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14 hours ago
Toronto, ON
25 days ago
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Good Density


There are a group of people (Abundant Housing, et al) who camp out on Twitter and other social media outlets demanding more and more density as the solution to Vancouver’s housing crisis. I absolutely agree we need to densify. But I have noticed two things about these twitterers:

  • their only solution is to build new buildings;
  • affordability is of no account;

They are wrong on both counts.

It is clear from Stats Can’s numbers and all the analysis people like Andy Yan have conducted that supply is not the issue here. Even Gregor Robertson in a deathbed conversion has agreed that supply is not the primary problem and our General Manager of Planning says we have spent a decade building the wrong things.  With 25,000+ empty housing units in the City, and tens of thousands of more units in the pipeline, any attempt to blame lack of supply is simply ludicrous.

I will make one exception to that statement:  housing for very low- or no-income  people has been sorely lacking for a decade, probably because it makes so little profit for the developers.  The City and Province are slowly beginning, albeit with some problems, to deal with that with their modular housing schemes. We need to do a lot more, but at least a start has been made.

The crisis is primarily for the middling sort, the regular working Janes and Joes of Vancouver; the folks who are hard-working productive employees but only make at or below the median wage in Vancouver (which is a notoriously low paid City).  These build-build-build types don’t seem to give a damn about these people. They are quite happy to build condos and townhouses and even apartment blocks that the majority of people cannot afford.

The only people who benefit from such buildings are the developers themselves, speculators, and those who already have houses to sell to finance the purchase.

We need to look at ways that can provide decent housing for the median folks, and we need to do it fast or they will simply move out of the city and take their vitality and talents with them. We can do this by encouraging owners of single detached houses to provide at least two and hopefully three households on each lot. This encouragement could come by relaxing the extraordinarily onerous, expensive, and time-consuming regulations the City imposes today on both in-house suites and laneway houses. We need to legalize all the “illegal” suites and encourage their refurbishment and expansion.

Such increases could easily double the density in Grandview, for example (as opposed to the 30% increase envisioned in the Community Plan). And this will be many times less expensive than new building as land costs will be irrelevant.

Finally, while this crisis lasts, it is incumbent on the City to ensure that City-owned land is sold/used only for genuinely affordable housing and not sold or handed over to developers for unaffordable condo towers and the like.

Density is a good thing, but only if regular local people can afford to buy what is built.

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5 days ago
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5 days ago
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